By La Tonya Allen-Brown, First Mile Care DPP Coach

We’ve all been there. You change your eating, exercise, and other lifestyle habits to achieve positive results. Perhaps your goal is weight loss, building muscles and improving flexibility, lowering blood pressure and/or blood sugar, improving the quality of sleep, or lowering stress. Maybe all of it! You feel GREAT. 

But after a while, you lose momentum. You start falling short of your goals. You “go off the rails.” Perhaps the weight loss slows, or the weather is inclement for exercising outdoors, or a pulled muscle prevents a trip to the gym. Maybe it’s vacation or a work project that requires longer-than-normal hours. “I’ll skip my workout today, but will make it up tomorrow,” you tell yourself.  An occasional glass of wine once again becomes a daily one. Yoga class seems like too much effort. Too busy to plan meals for the week and go to the market? There’s a strip of fast-food restaurants conveniently located on your drive home. And because of your schedule, you’re not getting seven-plus hours of sleep every night.

And just like that, you start slipping out of your new healthy habits back into an old, comfortable, less-than-healthy routine.

Yes, we’ve all been there — but we don’t have to stay there! It’s common to backslide. At some point, everyone has lapses – small slips, moments, or brief periods of time when they return to an old habit.

Getting back on track with your eating and activity goals after a slip-up is an important part of creating healthy habits that stick

Nip lapses in the bud

The First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) recognizes that an occasional lapse or detour on your journey to a healthier lifestyle is perfectly normal.

A lapse is not a big deal unless you let it become one. But a lapse left unchecked can grow into a relapse, a chain reaction resulting in a return to previous eating and activity habits. A relapse usually results from a series of several small lapses that snowball into a full-blown relapse. The most effective way to prevent a relapse is to identify the lapses early and deal with the triggers before they turn into a relapse.

It’s possible to break the pattern of success, lapse, relapse. Whatever you do, don’t give up! You fall off the bicycle; you get back on. It’s important to have a growth mindset and not become discouraged. In a recent article on the First Mile Care blog, Coach Jina Berro explained how to stay positive and successfully vanquish the six types of negative thinking that can derail you on your path towards lifestyle change.

Planning your comeback

Part of successful lifestyle change is having a plan to deal with your high-risk situations (emotional, routine, social, or other) that could interfere with your progress, so that they do not turn from lapses into relapses. Develop a plan.  Write it down. Look at your plan when you find yourself faced with a high-risk situation, or in the middle of a slip.

Think about when you’re most at risk for going off-track in terms of your healthy eating habits, your physical activity habits, and other healthy habits that may require self monitoring (e.g., food journaling).

There are five steps of problem solving to address lapses:

  1. Describe your problem. What is the bad habit or habits that’s interfering with your progress towards your lifestyle change goals? Can you identify a root cause for the reason you “fell off the wagon”? Was it a special occasion? If so, is it likely to happen again soon? Did you eat because of social pressure? Did you skip physical activity because you were too busy with other things, or because of work and family pressures?
  2. Come up with options. How can you break the bad habit? What should you be doing instead to address the root cause of the problem? What are the pros and cons of each option?  If your challenge is food-related, you might want to eat mindfully and track your intake for a while, if you had quit doing it. You could budget fewer calories or increase your physical activity for a few days to make up for your lapse. If you had quit formal meal planning, you could try doing it again for several days, or several meals.
  3. Choose the best options that are most likely to solve your problem. Make your new routine easy and the old one harder to follow.
  4. Make an action plan. You want to regain control of your eating or physical activity at the very next opportunity. Getting back on track without delay is important in preventing lapses from becoming relapses. Write down what you’ll do, when, for how long, possible challenges, and ways to overcome the challenges. What negative thinking might get in the way, and what positive thoughts can help you keep going?
  5. Try it! And if it’s not working, switch things up. Iterate.

When you find that you have lapsed, focus on all the positive changes you have made. Lifestyle change is a journey, with lots of small decisions and choices that you make every day that add up over time. Remind yourself that a short period of overeating or skipped physical activity will not erase all of your progress. Reach out to your support group — your DPP coach, another First Mile Care participant, or friends or family members who will lend a sympathetic ear.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. How you think about your lapse is the most important part of the process. If you give up and stop trying to make changes, then you are at risk for a true relapse. But if you treat your brief lapse as a learning opportunity, you will succeed.  And build in a healthy reward for when you get back on track!

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!